Highlighting her interest in education, Haley said, “We need complete transparency in the classroom. No parent should ever have to wonder what was said or taught to their child at school.” (Photo/Sydney Byerly of

By Ashlyn Myers & Sydney Byerly

January 19, 2024

HOLLIS, New Hampshire—Keyboards clicked from members of the press in the back of the Alpine Grove Event Center as hopeful voters shuffled into the room, asking each other if they scored good enough seats to be in the eyeline of Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Ahead of the first primary election in the country, Haley is on a tight schedule, aiming to show New Hampshire voters why they should vote for her on their Jan. 23 ballot. Days after taking the third-place spot in the Iowa Caucus, Haley showed up to the East Coast eager to prove why she believed the country needed a woman in the White House.

To open Haley’s meet-and-greet with voters on Thursday, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu took to the crowd of over 100, using his entrance to give a small jab at former president Donald J. Trump.

“She [Haley] wants to spend time with you guys, and the opportunity to come up and take a selfie and say ‘hello,’ that’s what retail campaigning is really about—not about flying into the country club, giving a speech, getting onto your big, fancy plane and heading back to the other country club that you actually live at,” Sununu said as the crowd laughed. “Thank you, Mr. Trump, we’ve seen that story again!”

Moving away from former presidents, Sununu turned toward the person he said will take the Oval Office seat next. He highlighted Haley’s previous experience as one of his main reasons for supporting her, saying she’s unique in the race because of her accounting background.

“To have an accountant in the White House? Holy cow, wouldn’t that be amazing? Someone who has been a governor, who understands accountability,” Sununu said. “You’ve got to get stuff done, you’ve got to balance budgets. And she’s done that, time and time again.”

More than her financial literacy, Sununu told the crowd he was impressed with her character.

“She’s just genuine. She’s just transparent, one of the friendliest people you’re ever gonna meet,” Sununu said. “She just wants to sit down and have a conversation and not tell you what she’s all about, but listen to what your issues are.”

As the governor spoke, more supporters and curious locals trickled in, causing constituents to pack themselves against the wooden walls of the full room. Bundled in coats and hats, they braved the drafts from chilled windows, barely keeping out New Hampshire’s bitter winter.

A warm welcome

Warming up the room in both excitement and crowd size, Sununu earned a standing ovation as he brought out Haley, who received his endorsement in December.

Smiling brightly as she greeted members of the public, Haley began by talking about how excited she was for New Hampshire’s primary. Neither Haley nor Sununu shied away from cracking jokes, taking opportunities to defrost the event whenever they saw them arise.

“Get excited: Five more days until we vote, and I know I’m excited because I’ve been campaigning here for 11 months,” Haley said. “I know why you’re excited because guess what? After five days, no more commercials!”

Haley spent most of her speech restating her highest priorities, including things like national security, mental health and term limits for members of Congress. Addressing a crowd holding signs with “Pick Nikki” and “NH <3 NH,” Haley received almost unanimous applause and nods from the audience.

“When it comes to the border, it doesn’t even look like the United States of America anymore. It really is recklessness at a whole new level,” Haley said.

Turning her speech to a personal note, Haley told the crowd how difficult it was for her husband, Michael Haley, a soldier in the Army National Guard, to transition to living back at home after being deployed. She used the moment to rally for increased mental health support and improved health care for veterans.

“I’m the proud wife of a combat veteran. He deployed to Afghanistan. The day he came home to us, that was a lot of prayers answered, but that was the easy part. When he got home, life got hard. Michael couldn’t hear loud noises, he couldn’t be in large crowds. Life had passed him by for the year he was gone, and the transition was tough,” Haley said.

“We can’t just love our men and women when they’re gone. We gotta love ‘em when they come back home, too.”

Throwing it back to the policymakers, Haley explained her idea for bettering health care for veterans by saying, “When it comes to VA health care, I think the best way to deal with it is that every member of Congress should have to get their health care from the VA, and you watch how fast that gets fixed!”

Voters even sat down their coffees to applaud Haley’s other main, non-sugarcoated point regarding term limits in Congress.

“Speaking of Congress, don’t you think it’s finally time we have term limits in D.C.?” Haley asked the crowd before receiving an eruption of cheers. “Don’t you think we need to have mental competency tests for anyone over the age of 75? And let me say this, I’m not being disrespectful when I say that. We all know 75-year-olds who can run circles around us, and then we know Joe Biden.”

“She makes a lot of sense”

Haley’s straight-to-the-point attitude struck voter Joan Croteau. For her, two things stick out.

“No. 1: She’s a woman,” Croteau said. “No. 2: She’s honest.”

Croteau expanded: “We need a good Republican. I mean, the Republican we had with Trump—he’s just too chaotic, he causes too much anxiety. The way he talks is ridiculous. I like the way Nikki talks … She talks like a sensible human being.”

More than just liking Haley’s policies, Croteau admired Haley’s small-town campaign style, appreciating that she gets up close and personal with voters.

“It tells me she’s interested in every single person, that she just isn’t in it for the politics or the money, for the glamor, for the power … She’s in it because she’s interested in the people and she wants to help out.”

Mike Ressem, a New England native, had a more atypical reason for attending—he racks up meet-and-greets like this one because he hopes to eventually meet a future president.

“I’ve been coming here since 1992, and I try to meet all the presidential candidates I can—it’s a hobby of ours. We’ve met a lot of them,” Ressem said, recalling candidates that have made the cold trek to New Hampshire throughout his 30-year stretch.

Ressem said he’s keeping an open mind about who he plans on voting for, but his hobby helps him size up all the candidates and compare them to others from the past.

Over the years, Ressem has even had a few repeat interactions with politicians. He most recently met former president Bill Clinton when his wife, first lady Hillary Clinton, ran for the presidency in 2016. At the start of his hobby, Ressem caught up with Clinton during his 1992 election campaign.

He said he’s had a few nice chats with Clinton. He once asked Clinton a question the former president said he’d never fielded before.

“I said to Bill Clinton, ‘Well, what does your grandchildren call you?’ and he says to me, ‘Nobody’s ever asked me that before! Rodham, Hugh Rodham [Hillary Clinton’s father], was Pop Pop, now I’m Pop Pop!” Ressem said.

Though it’s unclear if Ressem will be able to cross Nikki Haley off his list of candidates he met before they became president, Ressem said he believes she has good potential.

“She’s very impressive … She makes a lot of sense, and I think she’s the most sane and the most competent one in the race. Even though I don’t agree with all of her policies, I’m a little bit more liberal minded than her, but she’s competent and reasonable and would make solid decisions.”

Haley has more than just people from the ‘Live Free or Die’ state backing her. Bolstering a hoard of campaign volunteers, both local and out-of-state, many helpers were scrambling around the event on Thursday, catching signatures and passing out rally signs.

Dressed in her brightest red, white and blue blazer and a large “Nikki Haley for President” button, Melinda Tourangeau, a larger-than-life campaign volunteer, has been cheering for Haley since the beginning.

“The day I heard Nikki speak for the first time, I was completely taken with her platform,” Tourangeau said. “It’s rational, it’s clear, she’s intelligent, she has experience to back it up and she means to do it.”

Tourangeau said her main concerns when voting include narrowing the political divide, growing the economy, securing the country’s borders, holding China accountable and supporting the military.

“She and I share a common bond: Both our husbands are in the military. I’m also a veteran, so I love her for her support of the military and veterans,” Tourangeau said. “I know she means to restore our military to greatness, and I’m just terribly excited about that.”

Associated Press reporter Holly Ramer said rallies like this one are nothing new for her—this is the seventh primary she’s covered with the wire service—but it’s still exciting.

“I’m not really a political junkie, but I enjoy getting out,” Ramer said. “Even though I’m a New Hampshire native, I enjoy seeing different parts of the state that I haven’t seen before and talking to people all over the state.”

While some reporters are hopping all over New Hampshire to cover different campaign events, Ramer has the advantage of living nearby while still getting doses of covering national news.

“This particular week between Iowa and New Hampshire is always crazy because we get so much more media from really all over the world, so that always fascinates me,” she said. “It’s busy and stressful, but I’m happy at the end of the day that I can sleep in my own bed because I live here already.”

Same cold, new setting

Two hours later, Haley greeted members of the public again but this time in a much smaller setting. Robie’s Country Store in Hooksett, New Hampshire, has been a frequent stop on political campaign trails since the 1960s. The spot serves breakfast and lunch items made with ingredients homegrown on the Robie family’s local farm.

The store’s walls tell stories of American history, with original signs from the campaigns of Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and more.

The small bell on the business’ front door continuously chimed as Haley and Sununu greeted voters, their eyes wide at how many people packed in to see them.

At the conclusion of Haley’s two visits, voters were left with a mixture of hope for the future and concern about the unknown as they await Tuesday’s primary election. While polls show Haley trailing a few points behind Trump in New Hampshire, she took third in the Iowa Caucus, showing she hasn’t crossed the finish line yet.

Calling back to a song that boomed through loud speakers during Haley’s first event in Hollis, Sheryl Crow’s “Woman in the White House” hinted at Haley’s reason for running, straight from her mixed country/rock-and-roll playlist:

“It’s time we clean up Capitol Hill

With a shovel and a pair of high heels.

We’ve seen what the good ol’ boys can do,

Now it’s our turn to take a shot.”

Ashlyn Myers and Sydney Byerly are reporters for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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